Redbridge Cycling Centre in Essex hosted the 2016 National Youth Circuit Championships, an event once again drawing huge fields of riders from across the country.
Despite early conditions that saw races constantly threatened by a cloying, fine drizzle, the infamous Hog Hill climb once again proved a significant factor in ensuring exciting, competitive racing across the under 14 and under 16 age groups in a highly enjoyable meeting.
A large field of 85 boys in the under 14s blasted off the line excitedly to get the day’s action underway with 60 minutes of eventful racing from the gun.
An early break saw Oscar Nilsson Julien launch an audacious solo break after just two laps, the VC Londres rider opening a gap of over 20 seconds at one point, completing several laps off the front of the peloton on his own. When the main bunch decided they’d had enough however, they closed it down with remarkable ease and, in classic road race fashion a series of counter moves immediately lit up the race.
Two riders made a break stick, Archie Peet (Team Milton Keynes) gaining a small gap on the peloton before being joined by Oliver Stockwell (Welwyn Wheelers). The pair worked well together before Peet faded leaving Stockwell alone to complete almost half the race solo to take an impressive victory.
“I broke my collar bone at the North West Youth Tour and haven’t raced since,” revealed Stockwell. “I was really hoping that we could stay away but Archie had been out in front on his own for a while and couldn’t hang on.”
Stockwell’s lead at one point went up to more than 30 seconds before the peloton reacted and brought the winning margin back to just a few seconds on the line at the top of the final climb. An impressive sprint saw Mossley CRT riders fill out the podium places with Robert Donaldson and Junior Jackson at the head of the fast finishing bunch taking second and third respectively.
Next on track were the two girls’ national championship races, starting with a huge field of 76 riders in possibly the most competitive event of the day, the U16’s girls.
With as many as ten or so riders in a with a realistic chance of winning the race, the early laps were predictably cagey as riders marked each other until, perhaps inspired by the exploits of her club mate in the previous race, fellow Welwyn Wheelers rider Elspeth Grace became the only rider in the U16 girls category to make a significant breakaway. She led by almost 30 seconds at the mid-point and was looking comfortable on the hill but with five laps to go the peloton turned the screw and within another two laps they had her back in the bunch.
Earlier, Youth Circuit Series leader Pfeiffer Georgi (Liv-Epic CC) had tried to instigate a move with Ellie Russell (Sportcity Velo), another of the serious contenders for the win. But with so much quality in the main field keen not to let anything go, they too were soon brought back.
The inevitable bunch gallop ensued over the final climb of the race and it was Georgi who took the sprint, adding the U16 national jersey to the U14 title she has won previously.
“I tried to get away a couple of times but no-one was letting anything go,” she revealed.
“I really wasn’t that confident going up the climb and got caught behind a crash at one point so I’m really pleased with the win.”
A field of 33 riders then started the under 14 girls race with local rider and Youth Circuit Series leader Becky Surridge (VC Londres) amongst the favourites.
It was her team-mate Isabella Escalera who caught the eye in the early laps though, trying to get away on the fast descent at the back of the circuit and opening a gap. That attempt was closed down before youth Cyclo-Cross champion Ava Oxley Szilagyi (PH-MAS VCUK) appeared out of the group, but she too couldn’t make any significant distance on the main bunch.
After 45 minutes of hard racing which saw massive turns on the front from WXC World Racing’s Charlotte Mcgreevy every time the bunch powered up the climb, the final, significant ascent saw Towy Rider’s Emma Finucane appear first, comfortably winning the sprint up the hill to take the victory.
The fourth-placed rider in the National Youth Circuit Series, Finucane seemed a little shocked at her win.
“I’m not really a hill-climber, I was afraid of getting boxed in at the end so half way up the hill I just went for it,” she said.
“There was a few attacks early in the race but a few of us worked well together to bring them back and it proved worth it.”
Finishing off a great day of racing, the weather cleared up to leave the under 16 boys racing for a gruelling 90 minutes in hot conditions cheered eagerly on by a very large crowd of spectators.
The early pace was hard from the gun as a series of series looking breaks attacked and counter attacked the race. The most significant, starting as a bunch of four and soon swelling to six, looked like it might be significant as it contained one of the hot favourites, Lewis Askey (RST Racing).
The six riders worked well together until a number of riders trying to escape the main peloton acted as bridge and the break was brought back, due in no small part to a solid presence from the ASL360 Isle of Man riders packing the front end of the peloton. Cue another series of classic move and counter move as riders attempted to get into breaks, but nothing significant was sticking until, with some 35 minutes remaining, Sean Flynn of Edinburgh RC struck out on his own.
With several climbs of the infamous Hoggenberg left in the race and a strengthening headwind, it seemed unlikely that Flynn could solo to victory so would have been thankful for a monumental and successful effort to bridge across from Climb on Bikes CC rider Joshua Sandman, the two looking instantly much more cohesive and likely to succeed.
They quickly opened what turned out to be a winning margin and though the peloton gradually clawed the break back the chase always looked fractious rather than controlled with several riders sitting in no-man’s land between break and peloton.
In the main bunch Askey and another pre-race favourite, Ben Tulett (BeelineGener8) were doing heroic amounts of work in trying to close down a tantalisingly small gap before the two escapees finally managed to get over the climb for the final time, Flynn getting away on the final few metres of the hill to take the win.
“That was amazing,” admitted a tearful Flynn at the end, clearly overcome with the emotion of it all.
“I’d tried to get away earlier in the race and was brought back, but I noticed the bunch sat up for a bit so I went again and got away. It was so hard, my legs were just dying on that final sprint but I wanted it so much.”
Flynn has only done one of this seasons National Circuit Series events as he’s focused mainly on the national mountain bike series, where he’s taken a couple of wins. With a national title on the road to his name his season is quickly becoming a huge success.